Delhi is where Bollywood has found many a pretty prop. Its monuments, parks and rickshaw infested markets have framed romances, thrillers and even stories of pot-bellied uncles in settings of high colour. A spate of films woven around the city, like Dibakar Banerjee’s Khosla ka Ghosla as well as Rakesh Omprakash Mehar’s Rang De Basanti and Delhi 6 have trawled into the city’s by lanes for a more humdrum view of the Dilliwala – the middle-aged businessman who laugh his troubles away in the neighbourhood park’s laughing club, a group of college friends with a zeal for tea and parathas, the girl whose glamorous dreams dare to scale the walled city that reigns her in.
But can a few stories raise Delhi to the stature of a cinema city? In a feisty session held on Tuesday at Osian’s Cinefan festival - Is Delhi our Next Cinema City? - filmmakers and representatives of the government grappled with the issue.
While the panel agreed that Delhi had numerous glossy spots to fuel the imagination of filmmakers, there was dissent about whether locations alone could turn the city into a ‘hub’ of cinematic action. Neville Tuli, chairman of the Osian’s Group was vehemently against the use of heritage sites for a song-and-dance routine that could destroy a piece of history. ‘Films will come and go, and leave behind the risk of destroying 900 years of civilisation,’ he argued. He did, however, speak of cinema energising the city and bringing in its wake a visibility and glamour that could galvanise Delhi into a cultural hub. He emphasised the fact that Delhi needed a framework which facilitated the making of films: ‘As it is, the creative process is a struggle; people from all sectors should co-operate to assist filmmaking – the corporate world, government officials, student bodies.’
Filmmaker Bobby Bedi presented a case for Delhi turning into a cinematic satellite for Mumbai. He drew parallels from the Los Angeles-New York relationship and said, ‘Just like Hollywood exists in LA, but New York plays an important role in the films, Delhi too, has featured largely in Bollywood.’ He also refuted the argument that locations alone can’t make the city a film hub. ‘It’s impossible to shoot on the streets of Mumbai, while Delhi is a cake- walk,’ he affirmed.
There were a few panellists who argued that Delhi had already become the cultural nexus of the country. Professor Kiran Walia, who was present in lieu of Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, mentioned the Qutab Festival and Music in the Park as initiatives that had roused the city’s musicians and artistes.
However, in a fervent debunking of carefully constructed arguments, filmmaker Shekhar Kapur spoke of the need for provocation and enticement in any city that hoped to retain its creative talent. ‘Most creative people like to live in a place where there is a thriving underworld,’ he declared. Citing London, Paris and Berlin as examples of successful cultural ‘hubs’, he said that originality fed on new ideas from fellow artistes, poets and actors: ‘I won’t migrate to a place where there are huge studious, walls. But I will live in a place with more filmmakers.’
The city of Delhi, straining under a colossal bureaucracy and the responsibility of being the administrative hub of the country, clearly can’t loosen its grip to become the avant garde capital of the imaginative. Kapur advised the young filmmakers at the session, ‘Let’s become a little more rebellious.’
Director Imtiaz Ali, who spoke at the session, ‘Filmmaking in Delhi: Challenges and Opportunities’, defined a ‘hub’ as a place where ‘people create interesting stuff ’ and where ‘juices flow’. Ali, who went to college in Delhi, proclaimed that he knew the city. ‘I’ve met girls in buses who say things like: Meri body jab teri body se touch hoti hai to emotional daath ho jati hai! These encounters creep into your films.’ He spoke of the challenges of shooting in Delhi – the lack of infrastructure, the long wait for permission to shoot at certain locations.
The greatest challenge, however, is the absence of that one strain common to creative people – rebellion. A lack thereof strips a beautiful city off its sex appeal. Asked Shekhar Kapur of his youthful audience, ‘Where are the young people who live in barsatis? Anyone who’s lived in a barsati is far more interesting than someone who’s lived in a house.’
Where indeed, are the slightly mad, but totally sorted? In a different city, perhaps.